The wheel deal
At some of the Klang Valley’s bicycle cafes, you’ll find both food and people with plenty of soul.
THE love for the open road, the feeling of self-determination, the wind in their hair (metaphorically, because: helmets), being bonded to other people by a common love – amateur or pro, long-haul travellers or weekend warriors, people who love bicycles are often bound together by many threads.
“And I tell you: food,” says Joey Koo, chef and co-owner of The Bike Hub Cafe in Subang Jaya. “Cyclists love to eat and drink! Whether it’s a cup of good coffee before the start of a ride, or a meal after we finish.”
It’s little wonder that a slow burgeoning of bicycle cafes can be seen in many states – although most are concentrated in the Klang Valley, Melaka has Terminal B Cafe, there’s Cyclez Cafe in Muar, Johor, and Arnold Cycling Cafe is pretty well-established in Butterworth, Penang.
Cyclist cafes are very individual creatures nonetheless – some double as bike shops, or as repair and maintenance hubs, while others were created solely to act as hubs for the like-minded. Here are three places with as much heart for the sport as they have for good food.
Wandering down a backlane of Jalan Bangsar, you may come across a nonchalant, painted monkey, lying Cleopatra style across an also-painted bicycle; your eye, then drawn up, to the weathered concrete ziggurat rising above and beyond it.
And you’ve found The Basikal.
A testament to home and family, and making things from scratch – whether that is the spice paste for an asam laksa, or a custom-made touring bike, or the bones and flesh of a rooftop cafe – The Basikal is where Akmal Azfar and his family realise their love of bicycles (and each other).
Climb the (very) narrow stone staircase to the first floor, and you’re on the level of Akmal’s workshop; around the corner, The Basikal has a small guesthouse (Tido@The Basikal), just three rooms usually rented out to travellers who want to see the world on quadricep-powered wheels.
“Utility bikes are our speciality, like commute or custom-made touring bikes, so when travellers seek us out for maintenance, they often stay there,” says Akmal, 29. He is, however, also at home with road and mountain bikes, and even recumbent bikes.
One floor up, and you’re on the roof, where steel and wood meet to form a semi-open cafe; bicycle wheels hang suspended and form a faux roof in one section, and a bicycle sits perched on the low ledge overlooking Jalan Bangsar below, the LRT track above and pastel-painted flats beyond it.
It was all built by Akmal, his family and volunteers. “My father is a ‘MacGyver’, so he used his super welding skills to build this!” says Akmal. “We even built the lift for the bikes.”
(Because there’s no way they’re getting up that staircase).
This is where Akmal’s mother, Salmah Viran, 57, and his sister, Azyan Fairuz, 27, will take you in and feed you on homey, wholesome stuff like asam laksa and, more unusual in KL, laksa Terengganu (RM6 each). The latter is both rich and simple, a coconut milk gravy with shredded fish, liberally fragranced with black pepper.
“And definitely no MSG!” says Salmah. The menu is small, the favourites in Salmah’s culinary repertoire, and available from 5pm.
“I first moved here from my original bike centre in Universiti Putra Malaysia in 2015, renting the room downstairs as my workshop,” says Akmal. The roof was an empty space; Makan@TheBasikal became an option in late 2016.
“When I thought of opening a cafe up here, I also thought of getting a chef, doing cafetype food. But my mum has always been a good cook, and so I decided on this kind of home-cooked food instead – the kind I grew up with.”
Separated from the cafe by a long wooden table bank, Akmal has set aside another space for the bicycle repair workshops that are the real object of his zeal.
“I did sell bikes for a while, but teaching is my true passion,” he says. He wants to use these workshops to empower the underprivileged; with the help of a grant from the AirAsia Foundation, he conducts certified Park Tool School, Know One Teach One workshops, to pass on the skills and knowledge for bicycle repair.
“I want to set up a door-to-door repair service – like Uber, but you can just get someone to come over to your house to conduct repairs,” he says. “This will help to grow cycling culture, because I know a lot of people who find it too inconvenient to transport their bikes for repair and maintenance.
“I think many of us love cycling as kids, and then as we grow up, we forget our bikes. As adults, we focus on making money. But when we have enough money, we think of looking for happiness – and that search often leads back to cycling.”
As the Happy to Cycle Club grew from 10 members to almost 200, firm friendships were formed. But what was lacking, as some members of the Subang Jaya-based club realised, was a place to meet and mingle, to relax and wind down after rides – and yes, to eat.
And so the hunt for a perfect spot ensued – which ended when they found the space at the 3K sports complex in SS13 and opened the ca
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Be-spoked at Makan@The Basikal, a hidden gem in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. — FAIHAN GHANI/The Star.
Makan@The Basikal’s laksa Terengganu with home-made sambal; in the foreground, a tangy asam laksa. — FAIHAN GHANI/The Star